eating enough food
  • December 12, 2022

Episode 18: Signs you’re not eating enough

Today we are chatting about signs that you are not eating enough.     What is undereating and how does […]

Today we are chatting about signs that you are not eating enough.



What is undereating and how does it happen?

Undereating means you aren’t getting enough energy or calories from food.

  • This may include not getting enough macronutrients – protein, fats and carbs
  • It may also mean not getting enough micronutrients – vitamins and minerals


There are a few reasons we may end up undereating.

  1. Intentional ways include dieting or cutting out/restricting certain foods
    • This is often due to following nutrition advice you may have found on social media
    • However, a lot of this advice doesn’t have a good evidence base surrounding it.
    • Plus, when following this advice, we often don’t end up eating enough for our body
  2. Unintentional reasons include:
    • Lack of knowledge about nutrition needs
    • Busy schedule – whether that be missing lunch breaks at work or putting your children’s needs ahead of your own
    • Not having strong hunger cues – this can often come about after continually ignoring them for a long period of time but can also be due to stress, mental state, post-exercise and gut issues
    • Not matching your nutrition to your exercise levels (we have a full episode on fuelling yourself for exercise which is linked in the show notes)
    • Stress or mental health issues – this can dampen appetite cues but can also just dampen motivation to cook, prepare food or eat
    • Lack of access to food – this may be due to finances or location (e.g. living in rural or remote communities)


Red flags to look out for that might mean you are under eating

  1. Fatigue and low energy levels – this may be physical and/or mental energy
    • Note – many other things may affect this such as lack of sleep, mental health, stress
  2. Impaired immunity – if you are getting sick or injured frequently
  3. Hair loss and dull skin
  4. Hormone changes – this is for both females and men
    • Missing or skipping periods
    • Difficulty falling pregnant
    • Loss of libido
  5. Feeling cold all the time
  6. Low mood, irritability, and mental health difficulties
  7. Constipation due to a slower digestive tract
  8. Difficulty sleeping or poorer sleep quality
  9. Disordered thoughts arising around food – Increased thoughts about food, anxiety around food, cravings, binge eating

Many of these red flags come about due to your metabolism slowing down. This happens as a result of eating less food as the body will start to slow or shut down certain processes to help save energy from a survival standpoint.



Long-term effects of undereating

  • Impaired fertility
  • Lower bone density – this can be due to lack of calcium and vitamin D rich foods but also due to hormonal changes
  • Chronic low energy and mood changes
  • Muscle loss and gradual decline in strength – you may even start to struggle doing your usual everyday activities
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies – particularly iron, vitamin D, B12, zinc


What you can do if you are worried you aren’t eating enough

  1. Speak to your doctor about the symptoms you are experiencing and get any further tests/investigations necessary
    • The symptoms of undereating can often also have a lot of other causes that we may need to rule out
  2. Consider working with a dietitian (such as Kiah and Meg – we are fully virtual so we can see you wherever you are in the world)
    • We can look at the big picture of if you are getting enough food in general as well as macro and micronutrients
    • We can then work with you to develop personalised strategies and education



Practical strategies to get you started now if you are undereating

1: Eat more regularly if you are skipping meals

  • A good foundation is 3 meals + 3 snacks every 2-4 hours
  • You may not have regular hunger cues yet, but it is important to start by eating by the clock anyway to start getting those cues back
  • Setting phone reminders can be helpful for this

2: How to build a balanced meal using the plate model

  • Start by dividing your plate into thirds
    • Third 1: Add a source of protein (important for keeping us full and muscle growth) – meat, fish, legumes, tofu, TVP
    • Third 2: Carbohydrates – pasta, rice and other grains, bread, potato
    • Third 3: Fruits and veggies (this is the least important part if you are struggling to eat enough as although they contain tons of nutrients, they don’t contain much energy/calories)
    • Then add 1-2 thumbs worth of fats – ¼ of an avocado, handful of nuts/seeds, 1tbsp of olive oil (these are great sources of energy and also really important for hormones)


3: Building balanced snacks

  • We usually recommend pairing a couple of food groups together, for example:
    • Banana + yoghurt
    • Crackers + cheese or avo or hummus
    • Apple + nut butter
    • Veggie sticks + hummus
    • PB on toast


A note on exercise

If you are exercising a lot but have been undereating, it can be worth dialling back your exercise (or even removing it completely) whilst you are focusing on getting back on track with eating enough as this will help reduce your energy needs.


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